Since it is summer time and retirement often means the beginning of serious travel for people, I have been writing about travel in the last few columns. One subject I want to focus on is traveling alone. So many retirees want to travel but feel apprehensive about doing it without a group or a partner. So here are some tips:
1) Don’t be afraid to be rude! That’s right, even though your mother warned you against it, do not worry about the other person’s feelings if you are feeling uncomfortable in a situation. Let’s say you talk to another traveler on the airplane and he or she insists he can show you around when you land, or has a brother with a nice hotel, or an aunt who rents out a room. If it feels right, it could be a great adventure. If you feel you are being pushed and you don’t like it, just say no! The same holds true if you meet someone at the hotel bar or even in the lobby. No is understood around the world.
2) At the same time, the reason you are traveling is to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people and see new things. Make sure you talk to people in restaurants or at the hotel, and spend time and interact with people you may not do so with at home. The more you do it, the more you will build your confidence and sharpen up your skills to detect when to walk away.
3) Try to get maps and online information about your destination before you get there. If you don’t have GPS on your phone, get the app now. There is nothing that spells “target” more than a person standing on a corner looking at a foldout map. At least if you are looking at your phone, you could be communicating with someone and you won’t look so alone.
4) This tip is one I read online so I can’t verify that it works…but one woman said that when people ask her what she does for a living, she says she is a police officer! If you are retired, you can still use that line!
5) Don’t tell people where you are staying. You want your hotel to be your private safe spot. If you make plans with others, arrange to meet them somewhere else, not at your hotel.
6) If you are in a country where English is not the major language, be sure you have a hotel card or your hotel address written in the local language. That way you can jump in a cab and know that you will get where you want to go. Also, if you have that GPS, you can even follow the route and make sure the driver is not taking you out of the way.
7) It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out to people of a certain age, but it is important to dress conservatively when you are traveling alone. If you can’t blend in because the country you are in wears a different mode of dress, at least you can wear a shirt with sleeves and avoid fancy jewelry or expensive cameras. If you do want to use costly technical things, try to do it in big public places where others are around, not in side streets or dark alleys just because you might get a great shot there.
8) If at all possible, try to arrive at your new destination during the daylight. Nothing can make you feel more alone than arriving at a hotel around midnight, finding the clerk asleep or not very attentive and having the feeling that you don’t really know where you are! Sometimes it cannot be avoided, but don’t think of it as losing a day of travel; consider arriving when it is still light as a way to orient yourself for the next day.
9) My favorite thing to do when traveling is to find walking tours. Not only do you get an intimate look at the city, you are bound to find other travelers who speak your language and may want to join you for dinner or further adventures.
10) Be happy you are on your own. You don’t have to wait for a friend who takes hours to get ready, or see sights just because your travel companion is interested in ancient ruins or designer shopping. You can sleep as late as you want, take a nap in the afternoon, or eat street food without someone telling you it is not a good idea. And when you return home, you will be a newly independent person.